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Faculty Fellows Learn
High-Tech Teaching Techniques


t would be hard to imagine a field of scientific research that doesn’t increasingly rely on computational resources or data management and visualization, yet high-tech tools are not regularly incorporated into undergraduate science courses. To change that situation, Kris Stewart, director of the NPACI Education Center on Computational Science and Engineering (EdCenter) at San Diego State University (SDSU), is teaching college professors how to offer such tools to their students. The Faculty Fellows program, which Stewart launched in 1998, has had a major impact at SDSU, providing financial and educational support to as many as six professors per year to incorporate computational-science resources into their courses.

Map shows evapotranspiration in a watershed

Figure 1. Evapotranspiration Mapping

This map shows evapotranspiration in a watershed, It relied on the Regional Hydroecological Simulation System model developed by Christina Tague, a professor of geography at SDSU. The data-analysis toolkit provides an interactive interface for students in her undergraduate course, Water at the Earth’s Surface.

"University faculty members need to know how to employ sophisticated resources themselves before they’re ready to offer them to students," said Stewart. "When the faculty becomes comfortable working with the technology, and the information technology staff is trained to support the various platforms, we will have successfully created an environment ripe for the use of various NPACI and Alliance applications in a variety of university courses."

The program has attracted SDSU faculty from several colleges within the university. Fellows are selected for one semester, but most continue for an additional semester. They have built tools to visualize watersheds, earthquakes, and carnival rides. Other projects have included designing entire curricula and virtual field trips to local wetlands.

The fellows work with the EdCenter’s team of educators and computer developers to learn everything from animating PowerPoint slides, to programming a Java interface for a geology simulation. The fellows hold biweekly meetings called "synergy sessions" to share classroom strategies and successes.

"It’s a great opportunity for teachers to learn new skills that will help them be more effective in bringing computational science into the classroom," said Jeff Sale, a staff scientist with the EdCenter.


Tests physics of amusement park rides

Figure 2. Amusement Park Physics

Thomas Impelluso, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at SDSU, and his students built a simulator on the Cray T3E at SDSC that tested the physics of amusement park rides.

Kathleen McGuire, an SDSU biology professor and a fall 2000 and spring 2001 fellow, worked with Sale to develop an online tutorial to help students learn how to use various bioinformatics databases. The tutorial also teaches students how to use bioinformatics tools such as SDSC’s Biology WorkBench, which supports remote identification and manipulation of protein sequences. The tool is now used in biology courses at universities nationwide.

"Using databases and online tools has become an essential part of molecular biology, but I couldn’t find the right tutorial for my students," said McGuire. Now, her students compare and analyze DNA and protein sequences using the same bioinformatics tools–such as Entrez and Blast–used by researchers.

McGuire used the tutorial in Cell and Molecular Immunology and Current Topics in Molecular Biology. Students appreciated learning the new techniques. "They seem to know that they would need them as molecular biologists," said McGuire. "One student told me that the skills she learned in my class had been useful to her in her assignments for other classes. Others have used them at work."


Thomas Impelluso, an SDSU assistant professor of engineering and a fall 2000 and spring 2001 fellow, worked on a project incorporating high-end software and hardware into engineering design courses. Using applications such as finite-element software, dVISE, LabView, and proEngineer and running simulations on NPACI’s Cray T3E, Impelluso and his students built a physics machining simulator that tests amusement park rides.

"The students have made this project their own," said Impelluso. Richard Harris and George Rummel, SDSU undergraduates in Impelluso’s classes, won the EdCenter’s annual Computational Science Olympics with their simulations.


During her recent fellowship, Christina Tague, an SDSU geography professor, created a Java interface to an ecological hydrology research model called Regional Hydroecological Simulation System (RHESSys). Tague wanted to help students understand the interaction of hydrologic and ecological parameters such as soil moisture and evapotranspiration from plants.

The program gave her students access to a 3-D models and simulations of hydro-ecological processes, such as stream flow and evaporation from a watershed. "The models allow the students to see how processes work in a way that you couldn’t otherwise explain," she said.–CF


Project Leader
Kris Stewart
San Diego State University